Monday, 29 December 2014

My year in books 2014

As I usually do at this time of year, I decided to review my year of reading in 2014, what books I've loved, what books I haven't etc. First thing I noticed is that it wasn't a big year for reading for me, only about 25 books read which I'm sure is half my total from 2013. I also picked up and put down a few more books this year. I think this represents general busyness rather than anything else.

I read quite a mix of books during the year, no surprise there but weren't all my usual type of books. I'll look at them genre by genre.

Sci-fi/Fantasy

My most read author of the year was Alastair Reynolds. I finished off his Revelation Space trilogy with 'Absolution Gap', and also read the companion book of short stories: Galactic North. I've also read the first two books in his Poseidon's Children trilogy (the third one is out in early 2015). My favourite book of his read this year though, and a contender for my book of the year was 'House of Suns'. Set in the far future, this was a brilliant, action packed and yet thoughtful and evocative book. It doesn't get much better than that.

I also read the first book in Peter F Hamilton's new duology, 'The Abyss Beyond Dreams', which was excellent. Also went to a book signing and talk in Liverpool, which was really really interesting and the first time I've met him. Really looking forward to the sequel.

Also in science fiction, I read 'Songs of Distant Earth' by Arthur C Clarke, a good classic novel, but quite slow and not anywhere near as good as say The City and the Stars. Also in the classic science fiction line, I read 'Dune' by Frank Herbert for the first time and have to say it was very good.

I've not read much fantasy in a long time, but I'm currently reading the first book in the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, and finding it a really good read.

I've also read a few science fiction short stories this year, but I've picked and chosen rather than reading whole anthologies (except for the Alistair Reynolds one noted above).

Contemporary

I only actually read one that I'd class as contemporary fiction, and that was 'Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore' by Robin Sloan. This is something of a book for geeks, being a mixture of really old books, secret societies and lots of stuff about Google and the internet. Really enjoyed this one.

Classics

I opted for the shorter classics this year, reading 'The Great Gatsby' by F Scott Fitzgerald. It was an interesting read, and did capture the late gilded age quite well. I wouldn't say it was a book I enjoyed, but then again I'm not sure I was supposed to.

I also read 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens just before Christmas. I know the story of course (who doesn't?) but had never read the book before. I really enjoyed it, and found it quite witty in tone, which I wasn't expecting.

It should be noted here that I started reading Catch-22 by Joseph Heller but gave up a few chapters in. I get that it is an important book, but I just couldn't be bothered. It is a long book and would have been a slog. I read for enjoyment, and this wouldn't have been enjoyable for me.

Non-fiction

I'm reading a lot less non-fiction than I used to, but did read several excellent non-fiction books this year. They were:

'Down Under' by Bill Bryson about his exploration of Australia and its history. This is Bill Bryson at his best, funny yes, but very informative. I learned a lot, laughed a fair bit and enjoyed every minute of it. It got the right balance for me, as if I don't learn much from one of his books, I find it quite empty. This though was great.

'Cider with Rosie' by Laurie Lee. Classic memoir of a young boy growing up in a Cotswold village in the early 20th century, before the modern world intervened. Beautiful writing, and a window into a world lost forever.

'Ancient Rome' by Simon Baker. The only non-fiction history book I read this year. I've been interested in Ancient Rome for a while, and this gave a really good telling of the various different Emperors, right up the the fall of the Roman Empire. Fascinating stuff but an easy read too.

'Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different' by Karen Blumenthal. A short biography, very interesting. I like tech and business history. No doubt much less comprehensive than Walter Isaacson's definitive biography (indeed it references and quotes this book often), but so much quicker to read!

Historic fiction

I started out by reading 'A Gathering Light' by Jennifer Donnelly which is a (somewhat) literary historic novel, based around a murder that took place in New York state around the turn of the 20th century, but also a young woman's coming of age story. It was recommended by my wife, and I really enjoyed it, which shifted my reading interests a little. I went on to read two Tracy Chevalier books 'The Last Runaway' about a young Quaker woman who goes to live in America, and 'Remarkable Creatures' about Mary Anning, a real life fossil hunter from Lyme Regis. Both really good books, really evocative of history. These introduced me to a different (and better) kind of historic fiction than I'm used to.

I also then read 'The Remains of the Day' by Kazuo Ishiguro, a truly amazing book about a butler in an old English country house (think Carson from Downton Abbey). Another contender for book of the year.

Also read 'Crocodile on the Sandbank' by Elizabeth Peters, the first in her Amelia Peabody series set in the late 19th/early 20th century. Light reading but quite enjoyable.

Oh and then there was Longbourn by Jo Baker, basically Pride and Prejudice but told from the perspective of a servant girl. Interesting, decent read.

Crime/thriller

Last but not least are crime thrillers of which I read several. 'First Daughter' by Eric Van Lustbader was a Kindle Unlimited read, which I really enjoyed. Would definitely read more about this character, federal agent Jack McLure. Also read Jack Reacher book 18 'Never go Back' by Lee Child. A good solid read, but not as good as his early books. Then there was 'Indigo Slam' by Robert Crais which is a decent Elvis & Cole novel but confess I don't remember any more about.

So that's a whirlwind tour of the books I've read this year. A lot of good books, and one or two outstanding ones. I expanded my reading tastes to include some literary books, particularly literary historical fiction which I enjoyed far more than I expected to.

Top three books of the year are:

'House of Suns' by Alastair Reynolds
'Remains of the Day' by Kazuo Ishiguro
'Down Under' by Bill Bryson

Later, I might look ahead to what I want to read in 2015. But that's it for now.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Blogging re-boot

Well I've been singularly useless at the whole blogging thing recently. When I see recently I mean like the last two months, since my last post was on 1st November. In my defence, I've had two of the busiest months ever for one reason or another, a lot of it to do with work. However I'm bang in the middle of two weeks off, so if I can't write a post now, I might as well give up permanently.

My last post (on 1st November believe it or not) was about a November writing challenge I set myself. Unfortunately I didn't achieve quite what I set out to, but the good news is that I did decidedly better than I did with blogging. I set myself the goal of four short stories during November. I actually wrote two, or three if you count the one I wrote at the end of October. Two were science fiction, one was a historical short story, set during the Christmas Truce of World War One, a hundred years ago this Christmas. That one was for a Daily Express short story competition. I didn't win, obviously, but it motivated me to write and finish in a short time scale, and actually edit and finish it, something I don't always manage. I might publish on here, or share the link, not decided yet though...

So what am I hoping to do with my Blog re-boot? Well it is coming up to New Year, and along with 'Being Less Busy' (which will give me more time to write) one of my resolutions is going to be to write more which includes my blog. Topics will probably vary, as is common with me but include my main areas of interest including books, science fiction, history, science, travel, knowledge & information generally, and also a bit of board gaming... I might do a bit of bookspotting too, as I do really enjoy that, but it is quite time consuming, researching all the books, writing and linking all of the posts etc.

I'm also not going to worry too much about really long or polished posts too, which should mean I post more, but also means I'm off for now. See you tomorrow probably. Byeeeee!